Growing public support for Bersih rally despite police warnings

Bersih T-shirts are being snapped up in the run-up to this weekend's rally, which aims to press for democratic reforms and Prime Minister Najib Razak's resignation over controversial political funding.
Bersih T-shirts are being snapped up in the run-up to this weekend's rally, which aims to press for democratic reforms and Prime Minister Najib Razak's resignation over controversial political funding.PHOTO: MALAY MAIL ONLINE

KUALA LUMPUR • Public support is growing for this weekend's Bersih- led rally with T-shirts and other items being snapped up, despite official warnings of a clampdown.

Local district police chief Zainol Samah said yesterday that the march to Merdeka Square, where the government's Independence Day celebrations are also being planned for Sunday night, was illegal "right from the start", especially as the Kuala Lumpur City Hall has denied Bersih the use of the historic square. "They will face justice," he said after a meeting with Bersih chief Maria Chin Abdullah.

But some lawyers said the courts have declared that there is no such thing as an illegal gathering under the Peaceful Assembly Act 2012.

Bersih and the city's mayor have also agreed that the march would end in the vicinity of the square. Ms Maria insisted that Bersih's rally would not disturb Merdeka Day celebrations, telling reporters that "it is the people's way of celebrating it in calling for change and reform".

The electoral reforms group twice led tens of thousands of people in street protests prior to the 2013 General Election.

The rally this weekend is likely to draw similar crowds. Though opposition Parti Islam SeMalaysia said it would not mobilise its members for the event, the Democratic Action Party promised to deliver 10,000 supporters. Bersih has also raised at least RM1.5 million (S$496,000) from donations and sales of merchandise such as T-shirts.

"We have only about 3,000 plus (T-shirts) left," Bersih secretariat officer Mandeep Singh told The Straits Times, referring to its stock of 35,000 T-shirts.

Amid concerns that the government would jam mobile signals during the rally, downloads of the FireChat app, which works without an Internet connection, have spiked to nearly 10,000 from a few hundred a day, said app maker OpenGarden.

The Bersih rally, to be held simultaneously in over 50 cities worldwide, aims to press for democratic reforms and Prime Minister Najib Razak's resignation over controversial political funding amounting to US$700 million (S$981 million).

Shannon Teoh

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 27, 2015, with the headline 'Growing public support for Bersih rally despite police warnings'. Print Edition | Subscribe